Kaena: The Prophecy
2004
Kirsten Dunst plays Kaena in this fable about a young girl who believes that a tree world called Axis is pleading for her to help them save their sap. Despite her tribe's objections, Kaena journeys to the ends of Axis's root system to find out what's causing the problem, and there, she unearths a secret that will profoundly change her life and those around her. Co-stars Richard Harris and Anjelica Huston.

Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

This is an uneven project, but what it does best, it does very very well: The thrilling spectacle of a highly-detailed alien world, and action sequences that delight with their visual inventiveness. This is a film of images first and foremost, and is best appreciated as such. There are pictures here that will stay with you for years, especially as the camera zooms and soars around the action; this is the first fully-CGI film I can recall that used Hitchcock's famous "Vertigo" effect, but it fits the style of the film perfectly. The opening shot, soaring across and down and through and out of the corridors of an exploding spaceship, is a full two minutes of giddy visual excess that alone is worth the rental. If you're like me and you treasure most the films that give you new images to soak up, this one is a feast.

Sadly, it won't appeal to everyone. The villainess, though well-voiced by Anjelica Huston, is insufficiently explained by the film; we get the gyst of who she is and what she wants, but the gyst is simply not satisfying and her scenes are difficult to follow. There are other issues too: A generic fantasy-quest plotline, occasional moments of wince-inducingly banal dialogue, enough gratuitous T&A to supplant a year's subscription to Heavy Metal, and second-rate character animation. (When it's focused on the characters, this often looks like the best Playstation cut-scene ever made.) But it has some charming elements too, like truly original character design, a wonderful choral score by Farid Russlan, a great "virtual interview" on the DVD that shows off facial animation skills that for some reason didn't get used in the film, and the year's most enormous cinematic ambition. I cannot tell you whether you'd like this film, but I can tell you that I enjoyed it a great deal.

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